Growing tomatoes in pots brings the fruit (yes, technically tomatoes are a fruit) within easy reach regardless of of the amount of space you have. You can grow tomatoes in pots just about anywhere you have a sunny spot: deck, driveway, balcony, rooftop, even a fire escape.
1. Pick The Right Location
Choose a location that's protected from wind. Place pots where they’ll receive six hours of full sun daily. If pots aren’t near a water source, make sure a hose can reach them or that you don’t mind hauling a watering can. Tomatoes need a steady moisture supply. Group pots together but not so close that leaves rub against each other which can facilitate the spread of diseases. Grouping pots helps shade the roots of the plants which can be helpful when plants are sitting on a hard surface that absorbs and reflects heat like asphalt or concrete. Double potting (putting a pot inside a slightly larger pot) provides an insulating buffer.
(on my deck)
2. Select The Best Tomatoes for Your Area
This handy Tomato Selector will help you find tomato varieties that work best for your conditions. In general, determinate tomatoes tend to do better in pots. It’s also possible to grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers if they have enough soil and support.
3. Choose The Right Container
A full-grown tomato plant needs a lot of room to produce a strong root system. For best production, the ideal pot size is 18-inch diameter for determinate tomatoes and 24-inch diameter for indeterminate tomatoes. When using a fabric pot or grow bag, choose the 20 gallon size. If you use a smaller container like a 5-gallon bucket, select the smaller patio or bush types such as 'Patio', 'Better Bush', and 'Bush Goliath'. Remember, tomatoes in smaller pots will need more frequent watering and feeding.
All containers except fabric ones must have drainage holes. If you live in a warm region like the Deep South, Texas, or the Desert Southwest, it's probably best to avoid black plastic containers. They absorb a lot of heat which then heats the soil and can diminish plant growth. If squirrels, chipmunks, birds, or other critters are a problem, consider protecting your containers with bird netting.
4. Use Quality Potting Soil
Garden soil taken from planting beds tends to be too heavy for containers and may contain disease organisms. Fill containers with a good quality potting soil that's light and airy.
5. Plant The Tomatoes Correctly
Be sure to dig a hole deep enough to cover two-thirds of the tomato stem to encourage more roots. Plant after last frost date. If a frost threatens, cover pots for extra protection.
(photo courtesy Melody Rose)
6. Give Tomatoes a Strong Support
Insert a support at the time you plant the tomato. A traditional tomato cage or stake works well for determinate types. Use a string trellis, tall stake, tuteur, or sturdy cage for indeterminate types. To create your own tomato cages, bend metal fencing or hog wire into a cylinder and secure the ends closed. Push the roll into the ground or slip it over the outside of the pot and secure to stakes driven firmly into the soil.
7. Cover the Soil With Mulch
When planting tomatoes in pots, keep the soil at least one inch below the pot rim in order to have space for a layer of mulch. This will help keep the soil from drying out too quickly.
(my Topsy Turvy tomato planter with variety 'Yellow Pear')
8. Water Regularly
Proper watering is a major key to success with tomatoes in containers. Keep the soil consistently moist but not saturated. Inconsistent moisture can lead to blossom end rot. If the top inch of soil is dry when you push your finger in, water. Plants taller than knee-high can require almost daily watering once summer heat arrives. Consider purchasing a watering wand. Put a saucer under each pot to catch the excess water that runs through. The plants will absorb the extra moisture throughout the day and surfaces will be protected. A drip irrigation system may be helpful.
(photo by Diana Wind/Dave's Garden)
9. Feed Your Plants
Feed your tomato plants regularly throughout the growing season with a continuous-release fertilizer. This will help them grow larger and produce an abundance of healthy tomatoes. Make sure your fertilizer contains calcium which helps protect against blossom end rot. If you’re only growing a few plants, regularly inspect each one for any developing problems. With any fertilizer, follow package instructions.
10. Do A Thorough Cleanup At The End Of The Season
Remove and discard spent plants at the end of the growing season. If you plan to use the same pots the following season to grow anything in the tomato family (peppers, eggplants, potatoes), wash and scrub out old soil and residue and thoroughly spray them with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.
(photo courtesy Melody Rose)
(Credits: https://bonnieplants.com/library/grow-tomatoes-pots/; http://balconygardenweb.com/best-tomato-varieties-for-containers/; http://www.veggiegardener.com/best-tomatoes-for-containers/)